Category Archives: Movies

Spenser Confidential

 

 

It’s difficult for me to decide what to think about the  new Netflix  film, Spenser Confidential, starring Mark Wahlberg. The reason is that I have been fan—not a rabid fan—but a modest fan of the Spenser series of Detective novels written by Robert Parker. The problem is that this film is loosely—very loosely—based on the characters in that series namely Spenser and his buddy Hawk. In truth the only resemblance to that series of novels is the fact that Spenser is a detective, or at least is investigating a murder, and he likes boxing. The only resemblance between Hawk in the novel series and the film is that they are both black and big and tough. I don’t know why the film makers bothered using the same names. They must have paid for the rights to do that, but there is very little connection. There is also very little connection between this film and a TV series starring Robert Ulrich as Spenser either. That series did have a strong resemblance to the novel series. This weird fact mystified me.

Now getting down to the film. I liked it. I like it a lot. It had great humour particularly involving Spenser and his rough foul-mouthed wife. I also liked the humour between Spenser and his new pal Hawk. The mystery Spenser tried to solve was hardly worth our attention.

All in all, the film was amusing and funny. Not a bad combination actually. I recommend you see it. Just don’t expect anything like the previous Spenser series.

2 Popes

 

 

This is a movie about something that could never happen in American politics–2 leaders with deep disagreements finding something elusive–common ground.

In 2005 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and was summoned to Vatican City in Rome after the death of Pope John Paul II so that the new Pope could be selected. The process of picking a new Pope is arcane.  The people have no say. The decision is made by a group of old men, Cardinals of the Catholic Church. No women vote nor ordinary people. One would think such a system could never work. What could be more undemocratic than that? Yet the Roman Catholic Church has survived for 2 thousand years. Any institution that can last that long deserves some respect. In any event, the Cardinals selected German Cardinal Josephy Ratzinger, and he become Pope Benedict. Cardinal Bergoglio, who later became Pope Francis  came second in the vote. The two priests could hardly be more dissimilar.

7 years later Bergoglio has submitted his resignation, but the Vatican has not responded. The resignation cannot be completed unless Pope Benedict approve its. And he hesitates?The Pope and perhaps his biggest critic from inside the Church meet at the Popes grand Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of Popes.

Like American politicians the two churchmen quickly find things to disagree about. But unlike the politicians they debate severely without corrosive rancor. When they are unable to find a way out, they gently agree to disagree.

Bergoglio comments that the churches of Europe are beautiful but empty. Pope Benedict, a traditionalist, opines that “change is compromise.”  It is attitudes like that which make the Church so rigid. How can you improve on perfection? At the end of their first discussion, Pope Benedict says, “I disagree with everything you say.”

Yet, again, unlike so many politicians, they have more respectful discussions. For example, Bergoglio also complains, when seeing refugees on television that we are seeing the “globalization of indifference.” He also says, “Mercy is the dynamite that breaks down walls.”  If only more of our political leaders had such wisdom.

How can you make a good movie out of respectful discussions? It seems impossible, but I would suggest that is what people actually crave and get so rarely. I must admit I found it a great pleasure. I must admit I also enjoyed watching 2 Popes watch a soccer game on television while Pope Benedict drank Fanta.

They even argue about truth. If these were politicians neither would admit any truth in the other’s position.  Pope Francis takes a different approach. He says, “Truth may be vital, but without love it is unbearable.”

Eventually despite a deep chasm between these 2 men, common ground is found. Pope Benedict says to  Bergoglio, that although he was waiting for the voice of God, he heard that voice through him. These 2 men may have been selected by a process that makes about as much sense as the election of American Presidents through the Electoral College , but yet they managed to see more than a devil in the other. I wish more of our leaders could do that. I also wish more of us could learn from these 2 elders.

1917

 

This film tells the story of 2 fictionalBritish lance corporals in World War I on the western front, assigned to stop a battalion of 1,600 men from walking into a German ambush.  One of the men has extra incentive. His brother is part of the forces about to walk into that trap. The general warns the young corporal, “If you fail, it will be a massacre.” Apparently the film is based on true events told by the director’s father.

 

The film astonishes with its brilliant cinematography and unusual points of view. This is a war movie like I have never seen before. I am not sure this is what I wanted, but I really got the feeling that this is what war is like. And it doesn’t feel good. It an outstanding film. While not for the squeamish, I recommend it highly.

 

The scenes of war are unparalleled in their grizzly realism. The landscape is strewn with mud, dead horses, dead humans stuck inside mud, often with only parts revealed. Rats and birds consume the corpses. There are cows in the country-side doing their best to ignore the carnage. Buildings are horribly ravished. Violence is sudden, shocking, and explosive. All of this makes for a great film created by artists at the height of their powers. If this film does not win the Best Picture award, the film that does will have to be outstanding.

 

When the message to stand down is delivered, the officers who receive it safely ensconced in their bunkers, don’t want to believe. They are ready for war. The last thing they want to do is stand down. That idea is entirely contrary to their aggressive training. You’ll have to see the film to see what happens.

But I want to comment on a side bar. The film does not glorify the “heroes.” It does not glorify war. And that is good.

But why do so many war movies focus on the soldiers? For example, I would love to see a war movie that concentrates on a real life hero–like Bertrand Russell for example. I read his autobiography about 50 years ago after my first year of university. Russell was one of my intellectual heroes, but he was more than that.

I will never forget his description of going to Trafalgar Square in London when England declared war on the Germans in 1914. What surprised Russell, and me, was the immense joy experienced by the people. They were excited to go to war. The young men and women, aided and abetted by the old warmongers, were absolutely joyous at the prospects of the war. Of course it helped that most of them thought the war would be over soon. They fully expected to be, as they said, “home or homo by Christmas.”

Bertrand Russell could not believe it. It was his first experience of people braying for war. They screamed for war. They demanded war. And only a few voices dissented from this madness. People like Russell who were conscientious objectors to the war urged caution. They were the only ones who were sceptical about the objects of the war. They were the only ones who thought the war might not end soon. They were the only ones who exercised any humility or modesty. They were not consumed by the lust for war.

Of course, the people in England scorned Russell and his kind as cowards, traitors, Communists, and Huns. Many of them, like Russell were imprisoned for refusing to serve in the war. That took real courage.

Yet that war served absolutely no good purpose. It was fought mainly by young men and women from the working classes, to defend the dubious colonial businesses of the ruling classes. Why would they do that? Those hapless young people were pushed into a meat grinder for the sake of the higher classes. Millions lost their lives for no good reason at all. The war, like so many,  was a monstrous disaster. Old men called; young men and women died fro it.

When will we see a movie that glorifies the dissidents who told the truth about war, urging caution and humility while renouncing aggressive violence? That is a movie that I would like to see.

Parasite: Start the Revolution Without Me

 

 

We watched an electrifying film–Parasite. The grand finale is exactly that.  Grand and final. The film is unabashedly Korean. Be prepared for English subtitles. Together with Roma, from last year, Hollywood is going international all out.

The film involved a family of con artists that gradually take over a modern mansion when the owners take a camping trip. The family is extremely poor. 4 people living in a tiny basement apartment sharing minimal food. All are unemployed.  When the city fumigator comes by blowing awful chemical we assume they will be choking. No they want the assistance to kill stink bugs in their apartment   Clearly, these are the wretched of the earth. Regularly a drunken passer-by urinates on the sidewalk just outside their apartment window. The con artists gleefully get drunk and make a horrible mess of the lavish home. Soon the occupiers find another man who has been secretly camping in the basement and from there, all hell breaks lose. I mean that literally.

The film is sort of an allegory of revolution. The tinder is provided by 2 groups of common people who end up attacking each other and the elites who own the house. When resentments explode they do not do so in an orderly way. You don’t want to be there when it happens.  When the revolution comes, no matter what side of the Great Economic divide you occupy, you will deeply wish the revolution had started without you.

Spectacular explosions are triggered by innocuous micro-insults–like smell. But the results are hardly predictable. Forces are unleashed with astonishing power and speed.  Modern technology, no matter how sophisticated, won’t help you. It will just pour fuel on the conflagration and the combustion will decimate all of the virtues. You will be done.

The massive walls around the house are insufficient to contain the bedlam. As almost everyone, except the current President of the United States, Donald Trump knows, even the most beautiful walls are inadequate.  It does not matter how solid they appear. They won’t do the trick when the pot boils over. Even the most obsequious minors can be the instruments of uncontrollable rage when it is driven by an “idiot wind.” When the revolution comes it may not make any sense, but it will be real and dangerous nonetheless. It will be time to get out of there; if you can.

Marriage Story

 

 

This is a film about a marriage, or perhaps, the dissolution of a marriage, aided and abetted by lawyers for both parties.  The couple, Charlie and Nicole, start the film living together but estranged. Nicole tells Charlie, “I want an entirely different kind of life.” When Nicole hands Charlie the official petition for divorce Charlie dumbly says, “Thanks.”

Early on in the story and Charlie and Nicole are reading a story to their son Henry caught in the middle. Tears quietly roll down Charlie’s cheeks. Bewildered Henry does not understand what is going on.

The marriage mediator, trying to help them through this process, asks both of them to make a list of things each likes about the other.  Nicole is too embarrassed to read the list Charlie made about her. So we don’t get to see the list yet. The couple agrees that their divorce will be easy, non-confrontational, and uncontested.

Nicole has sought the services of an aggressive female attorney Nora.  One of the lawyers had a pillow on the office couch with the words, “Eat, drink, and Remarry.”

Then, of course, the lawyers get involved. And that soon changes everything. Charlie visits a young, aggressive and expensive lawyer, Jay Marotta, who urges Charlie to fight dirty. Charlie balks at this and hires a more congenial lawyer  Bert Spitz. Spitz says “divorce is like a death without a body.” Later when Charlie grumbles about the process, Spitz says, “you do this because you love your kids, but because you’re doing this the money comes from the kids’ education.” Spitz also advises Charlie to spend as much time as he can with his son. “Many people fight for this right and then don’t use it,” he says. In reply, Charlie says “you’re the first person in this process who spoke to me like a human being.”

Yet when the “amicable” process fails, Charlie goes back to his aggressive lawyer. “I need my own asshole,” Charlie says.  He also adds, “It’s going to be a fight now; we’re going to ask for things we never wanted.”  Someone remarks, “the system rewards bad behaviour.” Too often that is true. What a great system? That’s how things go when lawyers get involved. The lawyers, all of them, are unhelpful, cynical, mean, shallow, and greedy. And these are their good characteristics.  The young boy is caught between 2 trigger-happy parents. And he is selfish and unreasonable, like kids often are.

So the couple tries to settle the matter themselves directly without lawyers and it does not go well. Soon they are yelling at each other. Reason has vanished. Charlie in particular gets transformed by selfishness, but Nicole is not a model of kindness either. Soon Charlie breaks down in embarrassment at his own actions, weeping and begging for forgiveness.  The couple is able to relax their demands and Nora brags that she got her client more custody than she wanted, but urges her to take it. “Take it you won.”  Is this what winning looks like? Aside from the lawyers who wins in a divorce?

Near the end the list Charlie and Nicole made about the good points of the other are revealed. At least, Charlie sees what Nicole liked about him and he breaks down crying.

As happens too often in real life, the lawyers don’t make a strong positive contribution to the process. They are excellent street fighters, but is that what the couple needed? It seemed to bring out the worst in both parents.

A great system? I think not.  But this was a very good movie.

The Irishman.

 

 

I am not a big Martin Scorsese fan. I know that makes me a Cretin, but there it is. I liked some of Scorsese’s early films, but most of the later films leave me cold.

The Irishman tells the story of Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran a Philadelphia mob hit man reputedly involved in the mysterious disappearance of the Teamsters’ union boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. It’s a movie about ‘ordinary’ mobsters growing old and loosing their claws. It stars some of our favorite actors also growing old. It took nearly an hour of watching the film before I started to warm to it.

I think I started to like it about when Jimmy Hoffa remarked, “The government and big business are coming after us when we need unity. We need solidarity.” Mobsters and corrupt union bosses may be of dubious character, but they need to get along with others. Their lives depend on it. At least so they think.

Technically, like any Scorsese film, it is brilliant. It is a period piece that really feels like it belongs to its era while speaking for all times. it employs some great technology to make some of the actors look a lot younger or older than they are. That was pretty neat. Before the film is over, all the old men are dead or in jail. Frank’s daughter who witnessed him explode at a grocer who had in his view been disrespectful to Sheeran’s young daughter was obviously scared of her own father. After that she felt she could not come to him for help. It was too likely to turn violent.

The mobsters are family men. Is that enough for us to have fellow feeling for them? It helps, but is it sufficient? The mobsters are kind to each other’s children and spouses. Does that make them good people? I don’t think so. These are family men who can kill ruthlessly.

In one scene, old Frank, went in a wheel chair to pick out a casket. He bought a green casket. Does that signify renewal? I admit I did not find much regenerative in this film. Scorsese showed the mobsters as ordinary people, with wives, children, girlfriends and friends, but was not able to put a lot of life into this film.

After Hoffa disappears the cops question Frank as to his involvement and he refuses to speak. Frank says, “I can’t.” He can’t rat out anyone. It is not in his DNA. The Code of the Mobster is too strong, even when there is no reason to be bound by it anymore.

When he is old and in personal care home, he asks the nurse, “I’m still alive?”  The nurse responds positively and Frank replies, “It’s good to know.”  Sometimes it is difficult to know if he is alive or not. Sometimes he sees to be part of the living dead now that he no longer has claws at least.

At the end of it all, his daughter asks him, ‘What’s the point?’  That’s the point.

I was intrigued by the conversation between the hit man and the mobster. They talked in Code. Like Trump and his people. They always talk in code so they have deniability. Like a judge or jury we are expected to make reasonable inferences about what is going on. Like when Trump asks the leader of the Ukraine to do him a favor when they are discussing the military aid he held back. He always wants to maintain deniability. That way the mobster can always claim, “The conversation was perfect.” But we all know what happened.

In the end, the old men have learned nothing. Frank refuses to rat out anyone, even though all his friends are dead. Even though it would make no difference he can’t rat them out.

The movie was worth seeing, but I would not say it was great.

Little Women

The movie Little Women was written and directed by the very brilliant film maker,  Greta Gerwig.  A while back I blogged about undergoing a sex change operation. I suggested my name had been changed to Johanna. Now I will add fuel to that fire.  Here it is:  I enjoyed the movie Little Women more than any action movie I have seen in the last 5 years! There it is. I am out of the closet!

This film had some important things to say and it did so in an entertaining way. It reminded us that women often recognize that love is important, even very important, but so is the life of the mind and there is no reason why women should not participate in that life as much as any man.  I also liked what one of the sisters, Meg, said to her sister Jo: “Just because my dreams are different from yours doesn’t mean they’re not important.” Women  have the right to resist being put into boxes they are pressured to stay inside. This is an important lesson for men and women of all ages. It is easy to succumb to such pressures. It is brave to resist.

We also had an interesting experience in the theatre.  There were only 6 people watching the film.  And 2 of them sat right beside us. These were 2 women. Not only that, but they chatted or commented annoyingly throughout the film. Why did they do that? Then, near the end of the film 2 more women walked in  and one of them stopped right in front of Chris and asked her if she was in the right seat, implying that Chris was in her seat. Chris responded by waving her away and saying yes she had been sitting in her assigned seat for the entire film. The woman was obviously coming in too early for the next show. The lesson I learned: Yes women can be brave, but they can also be a pain in the ass.

 

Montreal Massacre: Not a Mad man

I watched the film Polytechnique as part of a local event reminding us of the Montreal Massacre of 30years ago. The film is a powerful re-enactment of the horrific event at the  Université de Montréal’s École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989.

There was an interesting disjunction that evening.  Our Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, failed to attend, but did send a written, well written in fact, comment. But in it he referred to the killer, who killed  himself when he was done, as a “madman.”  During the film the killer called himself “a rational person.”  This may surprise, but I think the killer was right. Our MP was wrong. He was not a madman. And that is the real chilling aspect of this case. He was not mad. He was not errant. He was the natural product of more than a century of male dominance. He was the logical conclusion of that dominance.

People who have power rarely give it up gently. In fact, people who have power see any opposition to that power as deeply irrational. It does not make sense, because their power makes perfect sense. They deserve the power. So invariably they believe. That is true of tyrants and it is equally true of ordinary male supremacists. They can’t even see the incongruity.   White male power is natural. Many even claim it is endorsed by God. Just goes to show you how irrational men can be.

All too often men who see their power slipping away react badly. Sometimes, as in the case of Marc Lepine, the Montreal mass killer, their resentment explodes into irrational rage.  No I don’t think Lepine was a madman. I wish he was. It would be easier to deal with than the truth.

 

Aretha’s Amazing Grace

 

Although it was only released in 2018, in 1972 a professional film crew filmed an amazing 2 concerts in a small  Baptist church in Los Angeles, where Aretha Franklin decided to return to her roots as a gospel singer.  The film is called Amazing Grace. This was no mega-church. Franklin had starred as a gospel singer from a very young age. She started out accompanying her father on his traveling religious revival shows and later she began recording songs in his church as the age of 14.

The 1972 concert was delivered at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts a suburb of Los Angeles California, and was backed by the Southern California Community Choir. As the leader of the choir and singer in his own right, James Cleveland said, it was not a concert it was a religious service. To me there is no finer religious music than southern African-America gospel. That is what religion is all about. That is why I like the gospel hour every Sunday during the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Despite the fact that the film was directed by Oscar award wining Sydney Pollack, who appears from time to time in the film, the filming was botched and the words were not properly synchronized with the images. Yet despite that, the night was (in my opinion) a miracle, and a second miracle occurred more than 40 years later when producer Alan Elliot worked out the technical problems and released the film in 2018. In the film there’s even a brief glimpse of a young Mick Jagger catching the Holy Spirit. Apparently Charlie Watts was also in the film, but I failed to recognize him. Perhaps that was because he did not yet show the years of his own heavy abuses.

The cinematography is simple or even amateurish, devoid of tricks or magic. But magic was not needed. The voice was all the magic anyone needed. Let me acknowledge at the outset that not all agreed with my enthusiasm. I saw it with my lovely wife and 4 friends.  Some of our group were not as impressed as I was. But they can write their own blogs. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine agreed with me.  He wrote, “And here she is, barely saying a word to the congregation, knowing instinctively that her singing is all that matters when the time comes to worship and to preach. That truly is amazing grace. How sweet the sound.”

Some of our group was disconcerted by Aretha’s passivity in front of her father. Why was she so passive? She said hardly a word. It is one thing to let your singing voice do your talking but was there more to it than that. At one point during the performance, her father, leaped onto stage to wipe her face because she was sweating so profusely. Aretha on the other hand was entirely meek and mild. All except her glorious voice. It rang loud and true.

Some of our party were disturbed when thanks to Professor Google we learned that Aretha’s father the Baptist Minister, C.L. Franklin, was ushered into the church to fawning applause. He was treated not as a minister, but a God. And we all know by now what happens when religious leaders are treated like gods. Exploitation or abuse is often quick to follow. Apparently that is what happened with Aretha’s father.

According to Aretha’s biographer, David Ritz, her father, a sweetly smooth talking Baptist Minister had more than a roving eye, particularly for young girls. It was said that the people of his congregation adored him, but kept a close eye on their young daughters when he was around. Ritz claimed in his book Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, that his church services often transformed into bacchanalian orgies. “It was the point where Saturday night merged into Sunday morning and sin met salvation at the crossroads of African American musical culture. High on the Holy Ghost, dancing in the aisles of New Bethel, the saints celebrated the love of Christ,” Ritz wrote. “High on wine and weed, the party people celebrated the love of the flesh.”The Washington Post, reported it this way:  “Ray Charles once visited the church and, despite his own propensity for promiscuous sexual experiences, was shocked, according to Ritz”.

Did an overbearing if not abusive father cow Franklin into submission? I don’t know.  What I know, is that, Aretha Franklin, the legitimate Queen of Soul, had a voice that allowed her to escape any attempt to constrain her. Remember though that I know nothing about music. I just know I liked it a lot. Watching her perform, I agreed with what Travers said, “It’s the closest thing to witnessing a miracle — just some cameras, a crowd and a voice touched by God.”

The congregation and guests were also worth seeing. The guests included the voluptuous African-American singer Clara Ward proudly strutting into the church dressed to the nines and absurdly covered by a heavy mink coat on a hot L.A. night. I enjoyed watching the choir leader who was a close match for Franklin’s rational exuberance and some of the dancers were so good, to use a phrase of W, B. Yeats and Don Henley we could not tell the dancer from the dance. The members of the congregation and choir were often off their seats waving, dancing, and singing with joy.

If you want to see a miracle go see the film at Cinematheque in Winnipeg or a good theatre near you.

Free  Solo

 

 

I watched the documentary film Free Solo about the promise of Alex Honnold to climb a massive slab of granite called El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. It is a granite monolith about 3,000 ft. (900 m.) from base to summit. It is a massive hunk of rock. Free solo is a mountain or rock climbing technique that means the climber ventures forth entirely without safety equipment of any sort.

At the outset let me say it: I am a chicken. I would never do anything remotely like what Alex Honnold did. I have not the slightest desire to even try.  I also want to admit at the outset that I am fearfully afraid of heights. I get queasy just thinking about what he did. I got queasy watching rock climbers with ropes and equipment climb a rock mountain in Zion National Park 2 years ago. For me, I would have a hard time standing near the edge of the summit, let alone anywhere on the face without ropes or equipment.

I was scared of watching the film because I had been told that anyone who was scared of heights probably should not watch. I wondered what might happen to me from the comfort of my couch as I watched it. How cowardly is that?

I have only seen rock climbers once. That was 2 years ago in Zion National Park. We were beside what I thought was a massive monolith. We saw the climbers from the ground and looking up they appeared as miniscule people. Frankly, I could hardly watch them from down on the ground. I thought the climbers were nuts. And they all had ropes.  In the movie Free Solo I learned that this free solo climb in Zion was an easy preparation for El Cap. Nothing to it was Honnold’s attitude. To me that seemed incomprehensible.

It is interesting to note that Honnold was going to climb with a film crew following every step, often from a safe distance. That must have added to the pressure.

I found one thing very interesting in the film. Alex said, “in free soloing you come as close to perfection as you will ever get, because even the slightest mistake means you will die.” I always think the pursuit of perfection is insane. This type of perfection is even crazier. Perfection, as they say is the enemy of the good. I would add it is the enemy of sanity.

I admit to some unease about the film interviews with Alex. Was the purpose to glorify the attempt? If so I do not want to be a part of it. I think it is a crazy thing to try. No it is an insanething to try. I hope the film does not lead others to try it too to grab some glory. The glory could be short-lived.

The first person to climb El Capitan climbed it together with a partner  in 47 days using “siege” tactics. This means they climbed expedition style using fixed ropes along the length of the route linking established camps along the way and using  aid climbing with ropes, pitons, and expansion bolts to make it to the summit. Even then it took nearly 2 months.

It was ascended again 2 years later by a group of 4 in 7 days. Today it usually takes a group of fit climbers about 4 to 5 days to do it. In 1975 a group of 3 climbers did it in 1 day.

The first solo ascent (not free solo) was accomplished in 10 days in 1968. In time some climbers sought ways to climb El Cap either free or with minimal aid. On June 3, 2017 Alex Honnold completed the first free solo climb of El Capitan without any protective equipment whatsoever. The film is about that climb. He ascended the Freerider route in 3 hours and 56 minutes.

The filming was spectacular with some fabulous 360°shots.  A number of times I was almost ill watching. Remember I’m a chicken.  It was that intense when he made some moves that required stunning body twists and holding himself with a thumb or a couple of fingers and a quick movement of a foot for a slight toe-hold from one tiny ledge to another. Imagine holding yourself up with a thumb? Or a toe? It really seemed like an impossible achievement.

Even though the cameramen at times had to look away as well, one of them said, “Alex is having the best day of his life.” Was he? Why? I really don’t get it.

I personally have no need to seek out thrills.  I don’t want to support it (even though I paid to see the film). I would not want to encourage anyone to take such chances for no real purpose.

Now I know there is nothing gained by me going to photograph wild flowers, or writing this silly blog, but at least I am not putting my life in danger. I get lots of excitement from traveling the world of ideas. I would rather venture forth in the world of ideas than climb a mountain, or walk across Antarctica, or run 29 miles in the Sahara desert. Each to our own. I don’t say my puny achievements are better. They are just better for me.

It was interesting to me that no one in the film encouraged Alex to climb the mountain free solo. Not one person. His girlfriend clearly would have preferred him not to do it, but I also felt perhaps she enjoyed soaking up some of the glory surrounding Alex. She did not stick around to watch him climb. Alex admitted he did not have to do it.  He chose to do it. Even after months of preparation by him and the film crew he said, “I know I could walk away from it, but I just don’t want to.”  He wanted to try it, knowing he might die in the attempt. But he gave no powerful reason for doing it.

What is the morality of a person doing something as crazy as this so we might behold his achievement? I don’t know. I don’t think I want to encourage it, but I guess I did. I don’t know why. Chris did not want to see the film because that would be like encouragement to others to try it too.

Honnold also said he did not want to die in front of his friends who were filming him. None of them wanted to do anything to distract him. They were very careful to avoid that while filming him. It must have added a serious element of extra danger to do what Honnold did with a film crew constantly around him. He even said he was tempted to just do it all alone one day without all the fuss. Just sneak out int he morning and do it. But then no one would know you did it. Why should that matter?

Honnold also claimed he was doing it “for all the right reasons”. What could that possibly mean? He did not explain. Can you conceive of a right reason? I can’t. Even Honnold admitted that it seemed odd to him to say he was doing it for the right reasons when he was climbing with an entourage of a crew.

At the end Alex said, “What a journey.”  That was his summation. That is a pretty prosaic statement for such an amazing achievement. That leads me to think that the entire effort was actually entirely banal. There was no good reason to do. He could not explain one. I don’t think there was one. Hannah Arendt wrote when she covered the Nuremberg Nazi trials after World War II that evil was banal. Sometimes that is true.  But I would add that so is spectacle. Spectacle is banal. Sports achievements are all ultimately banal. It may be briefly fun. But there is no important reason for them. There is no good reason, other than to have some fun and get in shape and experience some competition. Extreme sports achievements are all, in my opinion, banal.

         I know you have to be brave to do what Alex Honnold did. I don’t have that kind of courage. None of it to be precise. But you also have to be brave to dissent from the almost unanimous opinions of your friends or community. You have to be brave to strike out on your own on new lines of thought. You have to be brave to speak up when someone else is espousing racist views. You have to be brave to attack your own convictions because you never know where that will lead you.  That is the kind of bravery I wish I had.